The Return of the Big Two
There’s a bit of a pattern emerging here, isn’t there?
Is 2017 the Return of the Big Two?
The first part of the year, largely played on hard courts, was quite comprehensively dominated by a certain Swiss legend. Roger Federer took no less than one Grand Slam and two Masters titles. A feat all the more impressive considering his age and the fact he’d just had a lengthy lay off. It’s been easy to overlook the fact that Rafael Nadal has had an amazing start to the year also. Largely because Federer seems to have found a way to beat the Spaniard, and has done so a number of times this year already.
The King is Back on the Clay
Okay, so Federer has skipped the clay court season so far, and there have been some doubts over whether or not he’ll play the French Open. But lets be honest, even with Nadal losing to Federer three times this year, we all fancied the tables would turn on clay. Even so, the King of Clay has returned and he’s already taken the Monte Carlo Masters and now the Barcelona Open. It’s hardly a big leap to place him favourite for at least one more clay Masters, and if he pulls that off, he’ll surely be the favourite for Roland Garros.
The fact is, Federer has been the best player of the first part of 2017, and Nadal has been right behind him. And suddenly it feels like 2006—2008 all over again.
The Big Four?
Not right now it’s not.
Sure, it will take some effort to get Murray and Djokovic from the top spots, but the two best players in the world (in theory) have been largely AWOL. When the year kicked off with a mammoth Dubai final between Murray and Djokovic, we looked all set for a titanic battle for the top. Instead, the pair have picked up a title each and suffered a rash of disappointingly early exits. Murray showed a bit more spark in the Barcelona Open, reaching the semis. But ultimately he couldn’t find a way past Dominic Thiem. And lets be honest, on current form, who would pick him to have beaten Nadal?
Murray on Borrowed Time?
Though Djokovic will be disappointed with his early 2017 failings, Murray is the one who really stands to suffer. Murray’s 2016 was a tale of two halves. Other than Australian and French Open finals, he had quite a disappointing run. His ascension to number one came in the second half of the year where he won pretty much everything. Now, having missed the opportunity to build a practically untouchable lead, Murray will likely go into the second half of the year with a ridiculous amount of points to defend.
1, 2, 3, 4
One thing that’s looking increasingly likely is yet another year end 1, 2, 3, 4 for the Big Four. The question doesn’t seem to be as much whether it will happen, but what order the four will be in. As things stand, it looks more likely that Federer and Nadal will occupy the top two spots. Murray is doing nothing to cement his lead, and Djokovic is doing nothing to close the gap. Meanwhile Federer and Nadal are winning everything in sight!
My own opinion—and that’s all this is—is that motivation is the driving force here. Djokovic won the French Open, nabbing his Career Slam and becoming the first man in nearly fifty years to hold all four slams at once. There really isn’t a lot he can do now. He could go for sheer numbers, such as Federer’s total Slams record, but time isn’t on his side. He has missed out on Olympic Gold, but again, time may be too much of an issue.
Murray, meanwhile, has achieved more than most thought he could after many years of falling short at the final hurdle. There seemed to be a similar slump (though there was also that little back surgery thing) after he finally won Wimbledon in 2013. It must be difficult to get motivated after achieving so much.
Federer and Nadal, however, have long been thought past their best. Nadal with his poor, punished body, Federer with his age. Their run to the final of the Australian Open seemed to surprise them as much as anyone else, but now they know they can still do it, they seem intent to keep doing it. The knowledge that Father Time could take the opportunity away from them at any time can’t be hurting their motivation.